What is Structured Data Markup and should I care?

Let’s answer the easy part of the question first – Yes, you probably should care, depending on what you want from your website. Read on for more explanation on who it affects and who should (probably) use it.

The easiest way for a relative novice to understand the concept of Structured Data Markup (SDM) is to think of it as Meta Tags on steroids.

In case you didn’t know, a Meta Tag is a piece of HTML code that’s generally used on a web page to send information to search engines and your browser. The most commonly used Meta Tags are:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Keywords

The Meta Tags are placed within the <head> …..</head> area of each web page, and a Meta Description Tag looks like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”Weight loss, immune system support and more” />

If you operate a WordPress blog and are scratching your head right now then you probably need to back up a little and research ‘SEO Plugins for WordPress’. Installing a plugin like ‘All In One SEO‘ will open up direct Meta Tag editing on all your pages and posts, making it easy to add Titles, Descriptions and Keyword tags to your content.

So back to the main plot. Meta Tags pass data to Google, it’s data that you get to decide on as you are the one who writes the Meta tag content. Google reads the data, compares it to the actual text content on the page, then decides, via its complex ranking algorithm, how the Meta Tag data should influence the position of your pages in the SERP’s. (Search Engine Result Pages) 

Clearly, with only two primary Meta Tags (the Meta Keywords Tag is all but redundant these days), you don’t have a great deal that you can tell Google about your content other than a short Title + Description and what’s on the page.

Enter Structured Data Markup

Without getting too technical, SDM allows you to pass along a vast amount of information to search engines, not just about the content on a page but about your entire operation.

What type of additional information can you pass along?

Some quick examples include:

  1. Your company name
  2. Your logo
  3. Geo directions to your location
  4. A detailed description
  5. Opening Hours
  6. Contact persons
  7. Phone / email / fax
  8. Links to your social media accounts
  9. Links to your products with a wide array of product detail

…and a whole lot more.

What does Google do with the information?

Google takes the data and uses it to display an enhanced search experience to the searcher. Where Structured Data is used on products, articles, blogs, technical articles etc, Google can choose to display a good deal of ancillary information taken from SDM to present directly on the SERP’s. This stands out amongst non-SDM listings and catches the attention of the person performing the search.

The additional data means that the person is pre-armed with information about your company, products, services etc before actually clicking through to your web page. This is useful for reducing bounce rates and improving time on page – important metrics in determining your page rankings by the Google algorithm.

Also, Google can choose to extract data from the SDM and create bulleted feature lists at the top of the SERP’s. This really places the listing in the spotlight and attracts a much higher click-through-rate!

Here’s an example of a search returned for the term ‘royal jelly benefits’

You can see in the image above that Google has created what it calls a ‘Featured Snippet’ from the Structured Data Markup deployed on the web page – 

Google makes similar listing enhancements when displaying products from eCommerce websites utilizing SDM (Note – deploying SDM does not guarantee that Google will use it!)

So lets take a look at how SDM deployed on a website looks to Google and what type of tags and attributes can be used.

Let’s start with a website in the vitamin supplement industry which does not utilize SDM. Taking the URL of the home page, we drop that into Google’s own Structured Data Testing Tool and capture the output via a couple of screenshots. This is what we see – 

If you look at the above you’ll see that there isn’t really anything useful which can’t be passed along by a standard Meta Tag. That’s simply because SDM hasn’t been deployed on this particular website.

Now lets look at another example where Structured Data Markup has been deployed – 

Clearly, the second example is passing far greater detail along to be used in the SERP’s. The data extracted and utilized by Google will tend to depend upon the actual search query used, since obviously the entire data set is not going to be useful to everyone.

But for an enhanced local business listing, you can see that some of the data is going to be extremely useful – Geo data, opening hours, direct contact information etc.

My recommendation at this point is that anyone with a local business or an eCommerce business should look carefully at what’s involved in deploying SDM on their websites. It isn’t necessary to markup every page, just the key content pages, contact page and of course, the product pages.

Working with SDM in WordPress is fairly straightforward though quite time-consuming. There are different formats for integrating SDM, the primary ones being:

  • Google Tag Manage
  • Adobe Tag Manager
  • Squarespace
  • Javascript

On-page, JSON-LDRDFa,  or Microdata are the embedded data formats for SDM implementation,

Learn More about enhancing your own website with SDM by contacting us here

Learn more about the Markup, Code and Implementation at http://schema.org

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